Interview with Nina Stibbe

Nina StibbeJennifer Vido

 As mothers, we always want what is best for our kids. This especially applies when searching for a suitable caregiver. Whether it’s a temporary babysitter or a full-time nanny, this specially selected person undertakes the responsibility of nurturing our children in our absence. Being able to forge a unique bond with this individual enables both parties to feel loved and respected. After all, we are in it together as one family, so to speak.

 This month’sJen’s Jewels Nina Stibbe addresses this very topic in her new memoir, Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home. In a collection of unedited, original letters written to her sister, Nina shares her real-life experiences as a nanny to a prominent family in London in the 1980’s. With humorous stories of the two mischievous boys in her charge peppered with tender moments shared with their mum, she gives a brutally honest account of her unforgettable adventures.    

 As part of my interview, Little, Brown and Company has generously donated five copies for my readers to win in the trivia contest that follows the interview. Winners will be randomly drawn. Be sure to keep up-to-date on all the latest news in the publishing business by stopping by www.jennifervido.com, follow me on Facebook jennifervido.com, or on Twitter and Pinterest @JenniferVido. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels the ultimate source for news on the web for today’s hottest authors.              

Jen: As a commissioning editor, your personal journey to publication is a story in itself. So that my readers may catch a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the words, please briefly share with us your educational and professional background.

Nina: At age 15, I was somehow entered for the less academic school examinations and left school in a huff without taking any exams at all. I already had a pocket-money job cleaning in a geriatric nursing home so I extended my hours there and joined the adult world. A couple of years later many of my friends were preparing to leave our village to go to university and I came to regret my hasty decision to leave school.

I realized – a bit late - that without my end of school exams I couldn’t go into higher education -  – so I answered an advertisement in a magazine to be a nanny in London, which was the next best thing and at least meant I could leave home and have an adventure.

Once settled in my nanny job I met people who inspired me to catch up on my education and study in my spare time. I did this and eventually got a place at college and got my degree.

I then applied for assorted jobs and ended up working for Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich – an American company with a London office and finally became a commissioning editor. I’ve only ever worked in educational publishing (textbooks for teachers and students) and have had no experience of literary publishing, until now.

Jen: Please describe for us your “Aha!” moment when you decided to take the plunge and write a memoir about your experiences as a nanny in London.

Nina: There was no “Aha!” moment really. My book is made up of the letters I wrote to my sister between 1982 and 1887.  Luckily my sister kept them and found them again years later when she moved house in 1999. She and I read many of them and found them charming and funny. They were put away again then until 2007, when Andrew O’Hagan (the British author) contacted me to ask if I’d contribute to a book of tributes to Mary-Kay Wilmers (editor of the London review of Books) who I had nannied for. I dug out one of the letters (one which offered an amusing and naïve description of Mary-Kay). Andrew included it in his collection. People liked it and it was then that I wondered about the possibility of publishing the letters as a book. So, maybe that was the “Aha!” moment.

Jen: In terms of nuts and bolts, approximately how long did it take for you to compile the letters? And, what was the most challenging part of the process?  

Nina: I wrote the letters over a period of five years. Once Penguin, my UK publisher, got hold of them, my editor was determined to publish them unedited as far possible. I had imaged all kinds of tweaking, but no, we left them pretty much as I wrote them.

Jen: How did MK, Sam, and Will react to the news of being featured in this memoir? Did you meet any resistance?

Nina: The most challenging part of the publishing process was convincing Mary-Kay (who features significantly in the letters along with Sam and Will) to agree to the publication. At first she said “No way!”  I think Sam and Will were cool with it. But Mary-Kay had serious misgivings. I’m not sure what changed her mind. Maybe me badgering her.

Jen: As a nanny back in 1982, what was your biggest challenge in terms of adjusting to minding two young boys, Will and Sam, in a busy city?

Nina: I suppose, if anything, the cooking. Not that I had to do all of it. But when it was my turn, I produced some very ropey meals. But I loved the family and being in London pretty much straight away. I came from a bustling chaotic household and so none of it felt particularly challenging.

Jen: Your relationship with each child was quite special; however, it seemed as if you and Sam shared a special bond. What brought you two together as cohorts in crime, if you will?    

Nina: It might seem like that because I spent slightly more time with Sam due to him sometimes being off school and I may have mentioned him more in the letters. Actually Will was equally a partner in crime.

Jen: I was especially taken with MK’s witty repartee and hilarious comments (about your driving skills, for example) throughout the book. How did your relationship evolve over the years?

Nina: I settled in and was comfortable straight away. I got along with Mary-Kay because she was honest, straightforward and funny. There was no hierarchy or grandness. I felt like one of the family. I was an equal.

Jen: The cast of real life characters you encountered during your nanny experience was rather notable. Who among the crowd made the biggest impression on you?

Nina: There were lots of interesting people such as: Alan Bennett, Clare Tomalin, Michael Frayn, Karel Reisz, Deborah Moggach, Jonathan Miller, Stephen Frears but to be honest, I didn’t take much notice of them - in terms of their accomplishments - I just noted which of them could reverse-park a car or make a decent cup of tea or read a story to Sam when he was feeling poorly. Looking back though, it was an incredible group of people to live among.

Jen: If you could turn back the hands of time, what, if anything, would you have done differently?        

Nina: I might take more of an interest in the above cast of characters and all their amazing achievements as they happened.

Jen: How has the book’s publication affected your relationship with MK, Sam, and Will?

Nina: I’ve been to London more often (I now live in Cornwall, the far south west of the UK and about 5 hours from London) for literary events, so I’ve seen Mary-Kay and Sam more often. Not Will though as he lives in the US. But, they’ve been so pleased and excited about it, it’s been good.

Jen: Let’s switch gears now and talk about your promotional plans. Please take us on a brief tour of your website highlighting points of interest.  

Nina: My website is www.ninastibbe.com was created by my partner a year or so ago. I promised him I’d keep it up to date… it currently features some articles I wrote for the UK press and some reviews of Love, Nina in the UK. It’s a work in progress!

Jen: Are you present in social media? And, what is the best way for my readers to keep abreast of your latest news?

Nina: I’m @ninastibbe on twitter. I love Twitter and tweet lots of nonsense and pictures of my family and our cockapoo, Peggy. I’m less good at facebook and only follow one person, Sam (Frears) (so that I can see pictures of him rock climbing).

Jen: Are you currently at work on your next book? If so, what may you share with us?

Nina: My novel, Man at the Helm, comes out next year with Little, Brown.

Jen: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with my readers. Best of luck in all of your future projects!

Nina: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Nina. Please stop by your local bookstore, library, or online retailer and pick up a copy of Love, Nina today. Better yet, how would you like to win a free copy instead? Okay, send me an email at jensjewels@gmail.com with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll be entered into the contest. Good luck! (Offer void where prohibited.)

What are the names of Nina’s two charges?

Next month, I will be chatting with Jan Elizabeth Watson about her upcoming release, What has Become of You. You won’t want to miss it. 

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